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Brussels is Addicted: How Many More Shootings Until We Find a Solution? 

Updated: May 23

It's been a rough start to the year for Brussels. In the European capital, armed gangs have been free to roam — settling scores night and day in the heart of the city. What’s worse, they escape without being caught and if they are caught they're just replaced. 

On Saturday 24th of February, at night, another shooting took place in Brussels. With one person injured, this was the sixth shooting in the city that week. These events made for a peculiar February. Frankly, this year has begun quite strange with violence visible on the streets of Brussels and 2,000 arrests in six months having little to no impact. 

It all began when two people got severely injured during a shooting, on Sunday the 11th of February in the Brussels neighbourhood of Marolles. In less than 48 hours, on Tuesday, shootings… again. Only a few blocks away from the first one on Sunday. People are buzzing; this kind of activity is not common over here. On Wednesday 14th - the following day - the mayor of Brussels' municipality Saint-Gilles where the shootings happened was invited on the radio to explain the situation. The three shootings that have happened are already in the past. Another shooting has happened! And this time, it has asked for a toll. A person has died on the spot. Peace nor quiet were nowhere to be seen the following day as in the same neighbourhood, during a random search, a person was arrested after the police found in his possession a Kalashnikov

The police suspect that this growing violence is due to an increase in drug trafficking and settling of scores between cartels, even though a link between all these shootings has not officially been established. It is not a surprise; Belgium has a serious cocaine problem. Last year saw a record number of seizures in Belgian harbours whilst in 2023, Antwerp was again crowned European champion for cocaine residues in wastewater by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). 

But for Brussels, things look a little different. The main issue in the capital seems to be crack-cocaine. As it is composed from small stones that are smoked, crack  reaches the brain quicker than classical coke in powder which leads to greater euphoria. Coming from Antwerp where violence linked to drug business was already undergoing, Brussels’ nor federal authorities have never wanted to mix in the business of this port city. Now they have to watch as it is spreading in the capital. 

Already last summer when Brussels’ citizens were focused on the lasting heatwave, Belgian newspaper  Le Soir published an investigative article on the subject. Titled  “Violence by drug traffickers explodes in the capital”, it has not received much attention. Physical altercations, severed fingers, kidnapping, bodies riddled with bullets or left for dead after a beating. This unprecedented violence was at that time not interesting enough. After all, in one year (2023) there had ‘only’ been seven deaths and 131 injured (22 gun shots, 47 by knife and 62 injured by assault and battery).  

We see the consequences today. The political response was not equal to the emerging danger. A clean-up operation was carried out in the Gare du Midi area (Southern Brussels) last summer. The area around the Southern train station was known for its concentration of drug dealers for a long time. This operation was considered a success at the time but these past weeks it has been heavily criticised. Why? Because the traffic was cleared from the station, it emerged only a few blocks away. The violence would resume only a few hundred metres further on, around Les Marolles, where the shootings happened in February. 

Instead of considering the problem a national issue to be tackled as quickly as possible by all authorities, irresponsible reflexes are once again at work. The complexity of the Belgian political structure means that various players can each blame one another without having to deal with the problem immediately. For instance, the municipalities are complaining about the lack of resources from the federal government whilst the federal government complains about the poor organisation of the municipalities. This leads to never-ending debates on who is to blame. This lack of reaction is unfortunately only beneficial to the drug dealers. 

It was in the summer when Eric Jacobs, the chief of Brussels Judicial Federal Police (JFP) said to Le Soir: "In certain parts of the world, we can see that these organisations have taken control of states because the state has not fully mobilised to combat the phenomenon. In Belgium, we are not yet in such a situation, but we must mobilise to avoid it”. He then continued: “There has always been violence, stabbings for example, in the drugs business but this violence has never reached the level we see today. We are faced with abductions, kidnappings, torture, shooting with weapons of war, throwing of grenades, attacks with Molotov cocktails and homicides.” 

In the wake of escalating violence and drug turmoil, Brussels needs a unified governmental response to restore peace and protect its population. It is, at best, an unfortunate image for Brussels to have, when Belgium holds the presidency of the European Council. 

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